Recruiting the right people is essential to providing the highest levels of care and improving our residents’ daily lives. Once we had interviewed Lu Lawrence for the position of Activities Co-ordinator for Baycroft Flitwick, we had absolutely no hesitation in asking her to join us. We couldn’t have predicted the inexhaustible enthusiasm she brings, though; if we could find a way to hook her up to the power supply we’d have our very own energy source.
When did you join Baycroft Flitwick and how did you hear about us?
A resident I used to care for at a previous care home transferred here with his wife and I used to visit him here once a week for a cup of tea and a chat. The management asked what my experience was and said they were looking for an Activities Co-ordinator. I used to work at an advanced dementia unit and I’d gravitated towards managing activities while I was there, and had been juggling that with care shifts for around eight months before I came here. I was asked to come for an interview and started a few weeks later, in January 2020.
How has the pandemic affected working at Baycroft Flitwick?
I only joined two months before the first lockdown started, so it’s almost the only way I’ve experienced working here! In some ways it feels like I’ve been here a year – and in other ways it’s gone quite quickly, just through being so busy because at first, we had some staff members off sick and isolating or having to stay home to look after children. I think there was an advantage to not being here too long before the coronavirus changed everything though. It meant I hadn’t got used to a particular routine and I was still trialling ideas, I could be flexible. The care home had only been open four or five month before I joined, so I was also the first official Activities Co-ordinator here. I enjoy having the freedom to come up with ideas and try them out.
Of course, at first residents couldn’t have any visitors at all, so I was helping organise phone, Skype and WhatsApp calls and videos five days a week. Then we were allowed external visits, so I was involved in setting all those appointments. We’ve just had the go-ahead for internal visits, at last, but that brings some complicated logistics. Visitors have to complete an LFT (lateral flow test) training online and get a certificate before a visit. I then greet them and take their temperature and get consent forms signed, make sure they don PPE correctly, take them to the LFT room for the test. They remove their PPE and wait in the car for 20 minutes for the results. I register the details on the government website, the visitor gets another set of PPE and finally gets to see their relative in the internal visiting room. Obviously, I need to check everyone’s abiding by rules about not embracing each other – hard as it is! – and then clean the room down after each visit, complete the cleaning schedule details etc.
And I’m doing all that and more – like washing and styling residents’ hair and giving pedicures and manicures – as well as running five group activities a week!
Your time management must be phenomenal!
I do have a lot of energy, I don’t like to give up on things, and I just think it’s really important to use the time I’ve got in between different tasks proactively. So, if a visitor is in with a resident and they don’t need support, then I can use that time productively. I might do someone’s nails or take them for a walk in the garden in that time. And even really short periods of time you spend with someone are so important, they appreciate it so much!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a couple of projects I’ve started. There’s a garden project called At One With Nature. Everybody is taking part, but I’ve selected four residents to monitor, two of whom have a dementia diagnosis, and (co-ordinated with whoever has Power of Attorney for them, where necessary) completed questionnaires with them to gauge their mood, appetite, sleep, approach to activities. Three times a week we’ll be spending a couple of hours in the garden. I’ve bought a little greenhouse and they’ve planted daffodil bulbs. We’re going to attach felt pockets to the trellis outside each of those residents’ rooms and herb kits and vegetable kits to grow in them. The idea is that this side of the garden becomes really beautiful and colourful – with residents’ input into what they want. We’ll track the appetite, sleep and mood of those four residents we’re monitoring to see what a difference it makes.
The second project is Playlists For Life. Again, everyone gets to take part, but I’m monitoring the same effects on four different residents – again, two living with dementia and two residential. This is a daily activity and I’ve supported them to create music playlists through Spotify. Whenever they want during the day, they’ll spend some time just listening to music. Because music is such a powerful medium. It can useful for calming, setting a positive mood. Like with At One With Nature, our participants will be rating their mood and how they sleep and so on, on a scale of one to ten. I’ll be analysing their fluid intake and what they eat and in three months’ time we’ll review all the results what changes we can see.
How about the weekly activities? How do you run that?
I generate weekly activity timetables, which I print and distribute to every resident in their rooms and in communal areas. It’s a really simple guide to what’s going on. Some are pictorial and some are blown up large, depending on residents’ needs. I take photos throughout every activity to capture real reactions and it’s all kept in a binder, and we can share them on our Facebook page so that families see their loved ones enjoying themselves. That’s been especially important during the lockdowns. And if a family member doesn’t use Facebook, I’ll send them particular photos through WhatsApp. I’ve also made a huge physical photo album of our residents.
We’ve had all sorts of activities, even when we haven’t been able to have everyone together in one room because of distancing measures. We’ve done smoothie-making, milkshake-making, baking cookies and breads, chair-dancing exercises, everyone LOVES our fortnightly flower arranging, gardening, painting, games afternoons, a teddy bear picnic because one of our dementia residents is particularly fond of her teddy bear. And if someone is bedbound or wants to stay in their room, we’ll find a way to include them. Things like bingo can easily be done by linking up tablets, and all the way through until November we had weekly performers performing outside in the garden. If residents couldn’t get out, and for anyone bedbound, we streamed those performances to tablets. We’ve had all sorts, from vintage performer, to a jazz band with dancing, to cellists.
Of course, everything had to stop in person when the weather got too cold, but we still had virtual weekly performances which we could take to each resident in their room. Cambridge Art Council funded ten shows from a couple who performed with the violin and horn.
We also used to have school visits, but since visiting stopped the children have been sending cards and notes, which is lovely. I’m looking forward to those visits starting again eventually, and our trips out. We’d go for scenic drives, take binoculars to try deer-spotting, even sit with flasks in the middle of the countryside listening to the peace and quiet. Everyone misses trips out!
How about special occasions, Lu?
We always organise something for a resident’s birthday, guided by the resident and their family members. Often, it’s a simple matter of afternoon tea and cakes and a little fizz, but if there’s a way of turning it into something big that everyone benefits from, I’ll try to. For instance, one of our residents used to own a funfair, so we had a themed birthday party so all the residents could have candy floss, popcorn, toffee apples… and we played games like hoopla, hook a duck, everyone received old-school tickets when they won a game so they could choose a prize. If I can link something to a resident’s background or interests, I will, so we’ve had a belly dancer perform, because one of our dementia residents used to travel the world belly dancing, for instance. This lady lives with dementia, and that nostalgic reminder was just amazing.
Talking of dementia, you’re having dementia-related training now, aren’t you?
I’m doing Dementia Champion training, which started last January but had been put on hold. It resumed again this January. I’ll finish that training in April. I feel very strongly about the importance of ensuring everyone is properly informed about dementia. Even now it can be dismissed as part of old age, but it’s a brain disease. My grandmother is living with dementia, so it’s something that’s very personal for me.
I’m also doing my Diploma in Lead Adult Care, which I’m really enjoying. I’ve actually chosen units focused on dementia, too. It’s a year-long course, but I’ve completed about 55% of the modules so far. I’m hoping, eventually, I can introduce some learning for relatives to help them better understand the challenges of living with the disease.
It's no surprise you’ve been nominated for a Great British Care award, is it?
I was so touched to be nominated! It was a total surprise! I had an interview with the awards panel in November and took activity folders and photo albums and didn’t really give them to a chance to take notes! The award ceremony was scheduled for April originally but it’s been moved to July, so I’m hoping I’ll get to enjoy a proper night out! It’s really lovely to be recognised for things I’ve loved doing.
Because I love this job so much – I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. It’s so rewarding. It’s wonderful.